The holoscreen cut to black. The room was so quiet, a pin drop would have sounded like a hammer blow.
However, another incoming message pulled everyone out of their contemplative silence.
"Sir, we're being hailed," the communications technician said as her eyes grew wide.
"Source?" Murphy asked, noticing her astonishment.
"Sir, it's from the Senate Chambers on Romulus."
"Here it is," Murphy said to Paris. "Probably want to name their terms."
"No Sir," the technician replied. "They say they want to help."
"WHAT!?" the collected officers in the room shouted in unison.
"That's what they said," the technician replied holding up her hands.
Paris and Murphy exchanged glances.
"Put them onscreen," the Chief of Operations said giving in to the surreal situation. "But make sure they can't see any of our maps or charts behind us. This is a war room after all."
The Continuing Committee Chamber appeared on the holoscreen. Four Romulan Senators and Chairman Koval sat staring back at them.
"This is Admiral Owen Paris, Chief of Starfleet Operations. How may we help you?"
"I am Senator Semachs," the Romulan in the seated at the center of the table spoke. "I am interim head of the Continuing Committee as we work to select a new Proconsul."
"Yes, we heard about the untimely passing of Proconsul Vrnealious. Denebian Flu, such a rare and sudden illness," Paris replied.
"Yes…very sudden," Semachs grumbled. He understood the Federation probably knew that Neral had Vrnealious executed, but he was still unwilling to speak completely honestly with his enemies. "My colleagues: Senators Barchrus, S'trita, and Trallian as well as Chairman Koval of the Tal Shiar."
"Why isn't your Praetor willing to speak with our President?" Murphy asked.
"Praetor Neral is indisposed. However, I assure you we have full authority to speak for him."
"Very well…" Paris said as he realized that the reports on Neral's deterioration from Starfleet Intelligence's mole were accurate.
"I see Captain Daniel Tigranian and his crew are present with you," Semachs continued.
"Senators, Chairman" Tigranian nodded out of sheer diplomatic courtesy. He took care to not acknowledge Senator Trallian, a high council member of the Soldiers of Akarath, with more than just a cursory glance.
"Spare us," Semachs spat back at him. "Before we begin, understand that this does not represent, how does your species put it? 'An olive branch?' We still consider you a threat, we will not negotiate over any territorial boundary, and we still consider Captain Tigranian a wanted criminal that will be arrested if he sets foot in any Romulan or Cardassian State Territory. We are merely attempting to prevent a war that would be catastrophic to both our interests and yours."
"Why would you attempt to prevent a war that you started?" Tigranian asked. If they were not going to bother with diplomacy, than neither was he.
"Do you always let your subordinates speak to superiors so rudely?" Brachrus scoffed in Paris' direction.
"Normally no," Paris replied, "but Captain Tigranian has a point."
"For all it is worth, we swear to you that neither the leadership of the Romulan Star Empire or the Cardassian State had anything to do with this invasion of your space. It was the actions of one rogue Legate hoping to destroy the Federation who he sees as responsible for Cardassia's demise," S'trita said.
"How do you know that?" Murphy asked skeptically.
"Perhaps someone else should explain," she said pressing a few controls in front of her. The holographic image of a dour looking Premiere Harok appeared hovering on the table in front of them. He was standing in front of his desk in Berlask City on Simperia. "They can see and hear you now. So, explain it to them." She spoke with the same tone as if she was talking to a disobedient dog.
"Seven hours ago," Harok began with deep breath. "I received a transmission from Legate Tegan Varak, Commander of the First People's Fleet…"
Annabeth and Tigranian shot a side glance to each other as they remembered their encounter with him the previous month at the Cardassian State wargames.
"He stated that he had grown disgusted with the posturing and political nature of the conflict between Cardassians and the Federation," Harok continued. "He said that he, as a soldier, would do what the politicians could never accomplish: destroy the Federation and restore Cardassia to its former glory before the establishment of the Demilitarized Zone and the loss of Bajor. He said that he had stolen four experimental scout ships, each equipped with a Cataclysm Emitter. He also said that he had already destroyed three Federation starships, heavily damaged two others, and it was too late to stop him."
"Rest assured, Admiral," Semachs said turning to the image of Harok. "We will ensure that this breach of discipline in our ally's ranks will be properly dealt with."
Harok turned so pale, they could see it in the Federation.
"Good for them," Scharr said from the back of the room and unable to stay quiet any more. "But didn't you say you were going to help us?"
"We are, Andorian," Brachrus replied. He paused as he choked on what he had to say next. "To prevent a war, we are revealing to you one of the most secret joint military projects currently under development by the Cardassians and the Romulan Empire. This will seriously damage our national security, but not as much as facing your starships crossing the Neutral Zone. Chairman Koval:"
"Eighteen Months ago," Koval said at the far end of the table, "we acquired a complete energy dampening weapon from a Breen vessel that had been abandoned in our Zone of Occupation. We knew that it would be useless against Starfleet or Klingon vessels in its current configuration, but after exhaustive experimentation, we discovered that by coupling the subspace neutralization wave signature of the Breen device with our tachyon field emitters, we could generate a static disruption field with the capability to neutralize any device containing a multitronic circuit.
These emitters, which we codenamed "Project Cataclysm" were to be installed on scout ships and other sentry craft which would facilitate a first strike capability against the Federation and the Klingon Empire…should the need arise," he added the last clause very politically.
"We shared four of our prototypes with the Cardassian State Navy so they could modify the technology for their own vessels, however, the project has been suspended indefinitely due to issues."
"Issues?" Admiral Paris said skeptically.
"We have not been able to create a countermeasure against the effect to protect our own ships. The devices would be as devastating to our own fleet as they would be to yours," S'Trita explained.
"Well, it's obvious that the Cardassians have solved that problem, so why doesn't Premiere Harok help us both out?" Murphy asked.
"Legate Varak developed whatever countermeasure his fleet is utilizing without informing our Central Command," Harok said sheepishly. "My State Security Forces have already raided his research facilities, but the scientists have been killed and the databanks wiped."
The Starfleet officer's hearts all dropped again as the glimmer of hope they had clung to dissipated instantly.
"We can at least assure you that we will not attack across the Neutral Zone and the remainder of the Cardassian State Fleet has been ordered to immediately return to port. Our warbirds will ensure they obey until the loyalty of their commanders can be properly assessed," Semachs said.
"But we still have twelve Cardassian warships headed straight for Earth with no way to stop them," Tigranian said.
"That is true, Captain Tigranian," Brachrus said. "We wish we could assist more. We know how infuriating it is to have an enemy warship loose in your home territory that you cannot destroy."
The thinly veiled attack on the Pershing's crew wasn't lost on any of them.
"If that is all, Lady and Gentlemen, we appreciate the information, but we have plans we need to discuss," Paris said more appalled at this conversation than grateful.
"Understood, Admiral," Semachs said. "And Good luck."
The transmission disconnected.
"Keep Belen Tarn and the Nevksy exactly where they are," Paris said. "Just because their story lines up with the information we know, doesn't mean I trust them."
"Yes Sir," Murphy said. "I don't know whether to be reassured or terrified."
"Anything with a multitronic circuit?" Annabeth said shaking her head. "All of our computers and anything that interacts with LCARS has multitronic circuits: propulsion systems, deflector arrays, life support systems, replicators, phaser banks, torpedo launchers…"
"Even hand phaser and tricorders," Katie added. "Absolutely everything on a starship or starbase."
"And in less than 72 hours, those Cataclysm things will be orbiting Earth," Phil said.
The casualties could be in the billions if they decide to attack the planet," Alex said. "And all our medical equipment would be neutralized as well."
Suddenly, Laria's head perked up. She pushed Scharr and Tigranian out of the way and walked over to the back wall of G and G where a series of paintings depicted famous scenes from Starfleet history. She turned around and stared back at the group with her mouth hanging open.
"Hold on," Scharr said as his antennae curled. "The little genius has got that crazy look. It can only mean she has a crazy idea."
The group stared back at her waiting for her thoughts to coalesce into words.
"The Romulans said they modified a Breen Energy dampening weapon's subspace field by coupling it to a tachyon beam emitter," she said holding her hands up near her face. Her fingers danced as she furiously calculated a series of equations in her head.
"The Breen energy weapons operated on a frequency 8.63 terahertz and a carrier wave of 4.36 gigajoules." She started pacing back and forth so rapidly her Bajoran earring danced with every step. "Channeling that into a Romulan tachyon beam emitter operating on a Beta-C wave band would create a dampening field of 83 kilo-cochranes of subspace disruption, which is exactly the amount of subspace disruption necessary to deactivate a multitronic circuit matrix!"
"We already knew that their devices deactivate multitronic circuits, Laria," Tigranian said trying to get her ramblings to make logical sense. "They just told us that."
"Don't you see though!" she said flailing her arms. "The field won't affect anything that operates outside that subspace band!" she said hoping they would understand. A sea of blank faces was her only answer. She rolled her eyes. "A ship with duotronic circuitry would be immune from the disruption field! That's how the Cardassians are doing it! They haven't upgraded anything. They downgraded it!"
"Duotronic circuitry?" Scharr said shaking his head. "You mean a hundred year old junk from the last century? That kind of duotronic circuitry?"
"Lieutenant Amira," Admiral Paris said shaking his head. "I've been in Starfleet over forty years and have never seen a ship still equipped with that primitive level of technology."
"What the Admiral is trying to tell you, Laria," Scharr said rubbing his eyes, "is that every vessel with a duotronic network has either been upgraded or sent to the scrap heap sixty years ago."
"With respect, Sir," Laria said glancing over her shoulder. A portrait of a mop-haired man in Admiral's uniform looked back at her with his famous, confident smirk. Beneath it was a bronze plaque inscribed:
Admiral James Tiberius Kirk
Captain of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701
Chief of Starfleet Operations
Chief of Starfleet Academy Command Division
Captain of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A
"Risk Is Our Business"
"There's one left," she reached inside her jacket and pulled out the tourist brochure. "And it's floating right over our heads."
"The Enterprise-A!?" Murphy said in shock. "That's not a starship! That's a ninety-year old floating tourist attraction filled with souvenir kiosks and holophoto booths."
"Laria…" Tigranian said trying to save the woman he loved from any more embarrassment. "It takes a lot more than just a hull to operate a starship. It's been decommissioned for eighty years…"
She looked back at him with an angry stare. She snapped open the laminated, paper tri-fold and began reading:
"The USS Enterprise: NCC-1701-A served as the flagship of Starfleet from the 2280s to the 2290s and is the only 23rd Century starship to be preserved in complete, working order. Take a holophoto next to her towering warp core, talk to the same computer used by Captain Kirk, or sign up for our special "Red Alert" tour offered twice daily on weekends where you can actually load a photon casing in the torpedo bay and plot a phaser lock from the weapons station on the bridge."
"That sounds pretty operational to me," Laria said crossing her arms in front of her. "Sure it's risky, but to paraphrase a great man from our history, isn't risk our business?"
"Less than three days to take a hundred year old museum and turn it into a fighting starship?" Murphy said turning to Annabeth, Tigranian, and Admiral Paris. "We're not seriously considering this are we?"
"Sir," Scharr said actually considering the possibility. "If the warp core, EPS conduits, deflector array, and impulse drives are really as intact as Lieutenant Tigranian's tourist propaganda claims, it might actually be possible."
Tigranian looked to Laria. She was still unmoved in her conviction. He then faced Admiral Paris.
"May I make a recommendation, Sir?"
"Go right ahead, Captain," Paris said without a better idea.
"Call the curator of the National Starfleet Museum and tell them we want the keys to our ship back."